In this week’s episode of Friday Night Feast, Jamie and Jimmy ask whether we would be happy to pay a bit extra on the high street for free-range fried chicken. We spoke to the guys at Chicken Town, a north London fried chicken shop who are doing things a bit differently. They explain why they’re passionate about getting free-range chicken onto high street menus.

“We think free-range chicken is great for two reasons – it’s good for the chicken and good for our customers. Better, healthier chickens mean better nutritional value, better flavour (you can absolutely taste the difference), and they’re bigger birds too – which is handy! Chickens can have a really terrible life when they’re farmed on a large scale. It’s really important to us, as a fried chicken shop, that we don’t substantially add to that, and that we enable people to make more informed choices about the food they eat.”

Free-range challenges

“It’s not always easy to sell free-range fried chicken! The main challenge is cost. Getting the highest quality meat doesn’t come cheaply, and that’s challenging when other, lower quality alternatives are sold so cheaply. I was speaking to a French food researcher recently who said that, in France, people are willing and able to pay more for better quality produce because other costs of living – rent, for example – are so much cheaper than in the UK. It’s a complicated issue, but we try to tackle the cost challenge by subsidising the food we sell to under 18s with the regular trade of our restaurant.”

“I think things will change if customers start to demand better-quality chicken. If you help make it competitive and normal for businesses to take a more ethical, socially-responsible attitude to chicken welfare – then I really think we can make a difference. It’s about getting the word out to customers.

Better meat means better flavour

“At Chicken Town, our chickens comes from Swaledale Foods in the Yorkshire Dales. The chicken is a traditional native breed that is herb-fed and free-range. It’s also all Halal. Swaledale has partnerships with various handpicked farms and they work with carefully-selected local abattoirs, so they really know about the welfare of their animals and have full traceability of all their products. They supply us with all the meat we sell in the restaurant so this relationship is really important to us.”

Happier chickens, happier us

“By improving the quality of a hugely popular product we’re trying to show that better-quality food is something everyone should have access, and a right to. At Chicken Town, we’re trying to inspire the next generation to make more informed choices about food they consume: understanding more about where our food comes from is key to this. We have to lead by example. We do lots of growing projects and cookery classes in the shop, and so using an animal that’s lead a real life, in a field, is vital for this.”

About Dunya Kalantery

Dunya is the director of Chicken Town. She is also a director of London Grown: an organic growers’ co-op based in North London. She has a background in running public spaces and events. She graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Curating in 2014.